A Systems Approach Identifies Essential FOXO3 Functions at Key Steps of Terminal Erythropoiesis

PLoS Genet. 2015 Oct 9;11(10):e1005526. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005526. eCollection 2015 Oct.


Circulating red blood cells (RBCs) are essential for tissue oxygenation and homeostasis. Defective terminal erythropoiesis contributes to decreased generation of RBCs in many disorders. Specifically, ineffective nuclear expulsion (enucleation) during terminal maturation is an obstacle to therapeutic RBC production in vitro. To obtain mechanistic insights into terminal erythropoiesis we focused on FOXO3, a transcription factor implicated in erythroid disorders. Using an integrated computational and experimental systems biology approach, we show that FOXO3 is essential for the correct temporal gene expression during terminal erythropoiesis. We demonstrate that the FOXO3-dependent genetic network has critical physiological functions at key steps of terminal erythropoiesis including enucleation and mitochondrial clearance processes. FOXO3 loss deregulated transcription of genes implicated in cell polarity, nucleosome assembly and DNA packaging-related processes and compromised erythroid enucleation. Using high-resolution confocal microscopy and imaging flow cytometry we show that cell polarization is impaired leading to multilobulated Foxo3-/- erythroblasts defective in nuclear expulsion. Ectopic FOXO3 expression rescued Foxo3-/- erythroblast enucleation-related gene transcription, enucleation defects and terminal maturation. Remarkably, FOXO3 ectopic expression increased wild type erythroblast maturation and enucleation suggesting that enhancing FOXO3 activity may improve RBCs production. Altogether these studies uncover FOXO3 as a novel regulator of erythroblast enucleation and terminal maturation suggesting FOXO3 modulation might be therapeutic in disorders with defective erythroid maturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / genetics
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Cell Polarity / genetics
  • Erythroblasts / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / cytology
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Erythropoiesis / genetics*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Forkhead Box Protein O3
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Systems Biology*


  • Forkhead Box Protein O3
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • FoxO3 protein, mouse